Experts call for shorter working week

Two health and business professionals have joined growing calls for a reduced working week in order to improve employee wellbeing and business efficiency

Does your working week feel too long? If so you’re not alone. In April a YouGov survey found that 57% of UK workers would support a four-day week, with 71% believing that it would make country a happier place.

Now two leading experts in the fields of health and business have joined calls for reducing the number of days in the average working week. In July, top UK doctor John Ashton and Mexican telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim both put forward proposals for working weeks that they argue would create a healthier, more productive and more equal society.

Dr Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, believes that a standard working week should be reduced from five days to four in order to improve public health. He argues that it would reduce the prevalence of conditions such as high blood pressure and stress-related illnesses that may result from overwork. He also argued that it would allow people to spend more time with their families and cut unemployment.

“The problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs,” Ashton told the Guardian.

“It is viable,” said Ashton. “We’ve had the European working-time directive. Why couldn’t we move to a four-day week? The fifth day could be a community activity day, a giving back day.”

Carlos Slim, the world’s second richest man, has a similar view. To increase leisure time he has proposed a global three-day working week, but with longer working hours per day and delaying retirement until workers reach their 70s.

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However not everyone is convinced. David Kern, chief economist for the British Chamber of Commerce, claimed that productivity gains would not make up for the lost working hours and Philip Booth from the Institute of Economic Affairs described Slim’s idea as “a childcare nightmare.”

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) support the two proposals. The independent think-tank released a report in 2010 highlighting the benefits of shorter working hours and in 2013 published the book Time On Our Side: Why We All Need a Shorter Working Week.

Along with the reasons cited by Ashton and Slim, NEF believe that a shorter working week would reduce carbon emissions, improve gender equality and create a stronger democracy by allowing people more time to engage in politics and their local communities.

The announcements were made around the same time that flexible working rights were extended to all UK employees. NEF believe that the same could happen with a shorter working week, however admit that it would take time.

“Any move towards a shorter working week would need to be implemented gradually, alongside efforts to strengthen wage levels across the economy,” said Anna Coote, head of social policy at NEF. “But as long as that’s understood, there are clear benefits for environment, economy and society.”